Wednesday, July 30, 2014

CURRENT REELS: FRITZ LANG'S "METROPOLIS"


The 1927 silent film aired on TCM last week in its remastered and (as fully as possible) restored glory. The "must watch" gem of any film studies curriculum had somehow bypassed me in university, and I always felt guilty not having seen it in full. To remedy the situation, a less complete version of it has been gathering dust in my Netflix queue for years on end. 

Let's be honest - faced with choice of a silent German film from the 20s versus a popcorn blockbuster or even a cheap little thriller - the former usually loses out. Since it was on the telly - uninterrupted with no commercials - it was now or never. And what a wonderful experience it was. Watching not as a student, but as a fan of cinema made all the difference. Were this a classroom endeavor, I'd be feverishly taking notes and looking for all the regular signs of political and sociocultural undertones, dissecting every composition and every frame. There's plenty of it all right. The film oozes it. So much so that those aspects cannot be overlooked even by the most novice movie goer who isn't trained to "read" films per se. Nevertheless, I was determined to kick back and enjoy Lang's mastery of the craft. 

It's true, Hollywood takes credit for a lot of cinematic firsts, but in terms of a library of films and filmmakers who influenced the rest, I'd say Europe had the upper hand. Metropolis is the quintessential "influence" film not just for the future of science fiction, but as an example of how far the human mind can reach and how soon our imagination can be brought to life or, at the very least, on screen. 

To think this feat was accomplished in 1927 is revolutionary. To understand what the masses of that time were watching and how shocking it must have been to witness this in a theatre is chilling. There's more to it than the eerie premonition of Hitler, the Nazis, and the German "machine." This is a feast for the eyes, even in 2014. So, forget that it's silent, that it was made 87 (!) years ago, that it isn't in color or that it's foreign - whatever excuses people tell themselves in order to avoid engaging with a supposedly dated and "boring" piece of history. Metropolis is definitely a must see. 

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